Population matters

Iran's population increased dramatically during the latter half of the 20th century. In recent years, however, Iran's birth rate has dropped significantly. Studies project that Iran's rate of population growth will continue to slow until it stabilizes above 90 million by 2050. More than half of the population is under the age of 24, one quarter being 15 years of age or younger. Iran is ethnically and linguistically diverse, with some cities, such as Tehran, bringing various ethnic groups together.

Iran's population increased dramatically during the latter half of the 20th century. In recent years, however, Iran's birth rate has dropped significantly. Studies project that Iran's rate of population growth will continue to slow until it stabilizes above 90 million by 2050. More than half of the population is under the age of 24, one quarter being 15 years of age or younger. Iran is ethnically and linguistically diverse, with some cities, such as Tehran, bringing various ethnic groups together.

Iran is the second largest economy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with an estimated Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2012 of 613,398 billion Rials.  It also has the second largest population of the region, with an estimated 78.8 million people in 2015.  Iran ranks second in the world in natural gas reserves and fourth in proven crude oil reserves.  Economic activity and government revenues still depend to a large extent on oil revenues. 

The official unemployment rate in Iran reached 10.6% in 2014, up from 10.4% in 2013.  The GOI estimates that 8.5 million jobs need to be created in the following two years to reduce the unemployment rate to 7% by 2016.  Around 62% of the unemployed in Iran are young people (15-29 years old) and tackling this is a particularly pressing policy issue.  

In 2015 the unemployment rate of economically active population aged15-24 reached 25.2 (Source STATISTICAL Center of Iran 2016-Labor Force) Women 40.2 men 22.
The country's main population & development challenges include:

  • Maintaining Low Fertility Levels: Though Iranian women have reached the replacement level of fertility, it is vital that reproductive health services, including family planning, continue to expand to meet current and future needs. With half the country's population under the age of 24, the socioeconomic performance and reproductive behavior of the baby boom generation of the 1980s will be a powerful force shaping Iran's future.
  • Iran has experienced remarkable population changes during the past three decades. The population growth has declined from about 3.9% during 1976-86 to 1.3% during the period 2006 and 2011, and the total fertility rate in between the two periods has decreased from 7.0 children to below-replacement- level (1.8 children) in 2011. Changes in fertility and mortality rates, and accordingly population growth have caused a dense youth population structure in  post-revolutionary Iran.
  • Narrowing Gender Disparities: Despite significant achievements in health and education of women, there are a number of challenges in promoting gender equity, equality and empowerment of women in accordance with MDG 3 and pertinent international conferences and conventions. There is limited women's participation in wage labour outside the agricultural sector (14.7%). The significant progress achieved in female educational attainment has not been translated into increase in economic participation. There is a need for increased job opportunities for women and improved gender equality in the labour market. Creating conducive environment for women's economic participation is a pre-requisite to promoting Iran's economic competitiveness and active interaction with global economy, a primary goal of Iran's Twenty-Year Outlook (2005-2025). Furthermore, there is limited women's representation in Parliament (2.8%) and participation in governance and decision making positions.
  • Demographic Dividend: The demographic dividend which is the rise in the rate of economic growth due to a rising share of working age people in a population is yet another population challenge in Iran. This occurs in the demographic transition due to the fact that the fertility rate falls and the youth dependency rate declines. Based on the last Population & Housing Census, the population aged 10 + reached 59,523 million of which 40.6% were economically active. It has been reported that 20,476 million were employed and 2,999 million unemployed (or seek for work). Of 35,538 million non-economically active populations, 13,117 million have been students, 16,057 million housewives, and 2,974 million income recipients.

Iran has experienced a so-called 'youth bulge' over the past decade.  Around 50% of the population is currently under 30, and people between 15 and 29 make up around one-third of the population.  Iran's young population presents an opportunity (a demographic dividend) to accelerate socio-economic development.  Iran is nevertheless also a country facing an ageing population.  This brings along with it a set of economic, social and health-related challenges which Iran will need to address, including concerns about the speed of future economic growth, how to finance the health care and pension systems, and the well-being of the elderly.  Sound data is essential to support effective long-term planning and decision making on population and development issues.